For many, “V-Day” is simply an abbreviation for a holiday overflowing with flowers, greeting cards and little heart-shaped candies. For the women of A Window Between Worlds, however, V-Day means so much more.
For the eighth year in a row, V-Day USC, an extension of the global movement to end abuse against women and children, will donate the proceeds from its annual production of The Vagina Monologues to A Window Between Worlds, a nonprofit organization that helps domestic violence survivors use art as a healing tool.
“The whole performance is about finding the safety to speak honestly about our bodies and about our stories in such an empowering way,” said Cathy Salser, founder and executive director of A Window Between Worlds. “And V-Day is an international movement that is transforming the world.”
The famed series of monologues was written by playwright and activist Eve Ensler after she conducted dozens of interviews with women about sexuality, rape and abuse.
When Ensler realized that performances of her play could be a catalyst in the movement to end violence against women and girls, she and a group of women established V-Day. They kicked off the movement in 1998 with a Valentine’s Day benefit performance in New York City.
“It was so heartbreaking for Eve to hear about the violence and the trauma that she felt like she needed to do something with this,” Salser said. “So she made it into a campaign so that students all over the world could take her play and bring it to life to end violence in their communities.”
Today, USC’s production of The Vagina Monologues is one of more than 5,400 V-Day events held all over the world to benefit local projects and programs each year. Since V-Day USC first gave its proceeds to A Window Between Worlds in 2004, the number of women that the organization is able to serve has nearly quadrupled.
“In 2004, we were serving 6,400 women,” Salser said. “Now it’s 25,000 per year.”
A Window Between Worlds, based in Venice, Calif., brings weekly art workshops to more than 100 domestic violence shelters in 23 states. The funds raised by V-Day USC go toward providing training and art supplies to help start new programs.
Audrey Salzburg, associate director of A Window Between Worlds, said the organization’s programs give women and children who have experienced abuse a voice they didn’t think they had.
“Typically we talk about the survivors as victims — their voices have been silenced because it’s not something you talk about,” Salzburg said. “What we do is give them the safety, the freedom and the space they need to explore and find their voice.”
According to Salser, a new art project is added to the organization’s curriculum each month. The art projects include things like the Funeral of I Cant’s and the Personal Needs Flower. Projects such as these allow survivors to look at where they were, where they are now and where they want to be, Salser said.
“I think Art doesn’t require words and sometimes words aren’t enough to have,” Salzburg said. “The art itself allows them to find an expression that taps into the heart. It meets you wherever you are in your growth and your healing.”
The women and children who participate in A Window Between Worlds’ programs also get to share their artwork with the public, both in the exhibit section of the organization’s website, www.awbw.org, as well as at live exhibitions. Artwork by 800 survivors and community members will be on display at the Korean Cultural Center starting March 5, the organization’s largest exhibit ever. Some of the survivors’ artwork might also be on display at V-Day USC’s performance of The Vagina Monologues, Salser said.
Salzburg, who has seen The Vagina Monologues performed in many different settings and by many different people, said that there is something special about USC’s production.
“I’ve seen it in New York on Broadway, where the cast was on stools and talking to the audience, which is wonderful and very effective, but I have to say the USC performance is enthralling,” she said. “It really speaks to the heart of what Eve was getting at when she wrote it.”
V-Day USC is the first of a number of organizations that holds fundraising events in which A Window Between Worlds will be participating in this year to celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary. Both Salser and Salzburg said they are very grateful to USC and they cherish the opportunity that V-Day USC provides to spread awareness about the need to end abuse against women and children.
“You don’t have to be a survivor to end violence in the domestic community,” Salser said. “It really takes all of us.”
V-Day USC will present The Vagina Monologues on Friday and Saturday at the Village Gate Theatre.